Steven Hyden just wrote an excellent article on the state (and potential future state) of pop music.
He contends that pop music and thus pop stars are becoming an accessory to selling technology. Can’t argue with that at all. However, I believe the bigger issue is “pop music” as a category.
What is “POP” anyway?
Ever since mass media became mass, anything “pop” has been made popular by a very narrow set of tastemakers. We have been spoon-fed singles for the past 50 years. This is how the music industry had so much success. The majority of music listeners had to live with the Top 40 as a primary means of new music discovery.
It’s well-known that bands like Journey ad REO Speedwagon were huge radio stars because their fans matched the target demographic of the radio advertisers. It was a symbiotic relationship.
In 2014, this has all changed. The Internet has democratized attention for the same masses as in 1982. “Pop” is no longer Popular. Let me say that again – “Pop Music” is no longer popular music as defined for the past 50 years.
The Most Shared Equals Popular
Hit singles are no longer spoon-fed by a narrow set of tastemakers. Hit singles are determined by how much its shared. I can guarantee that whatever my 13 year-old just downloaded is being listened to by hundreds of millions people (not just kids) all around the world. She was listening “Cups” by Anna Kendrick six months before it went to radio. Radio and mass media are becoming a reflection of what is organically becoming popular online.
Even the morning news is reporting the latest viral video and stories that I’ve already skimmed on Twitter. Frankly, I don’t even see the value in 95% of news programs. (But that’s a different post….)
The meaning behind popular music is a song that resonates. Today, it really doesn’t matter where it comes from as long as it resonates. If it’s a mash-up of bluegrass and house music written by a producer who doesn’t perform as a musician, the song can still resonate.
The Best Branding Wins
So, what is the future of pop music? I think it has little to do with the medium on which it travels. A songs popularity will be based on its own merit and craftsmanship. The notion of “Pop” stars will be nothing more than a traveling circus. Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, etc will be the golden era of megapop stardom. If we’re still talking about music, it will always come back to the song – the emotion and the experience of the performer. I hope that lives forever.